The FIA's Contract Recognition Board has ruled in favour of McLaren on Oscar Piastri, allowing the Australian to take a seat with the team on the grid from 2023.

Alpine and McLaren were locked in a battle over the services of the 21-year-old, who was a member of Alpine's junior programme and held reserve status with the team this season.

Fernando Alonso's announcement that he would be leaving Alpine for Aston Martin sparked a domino effect in the market, with Alpine then announcing Piastri would take a seat next year.

However, Piastri then took to social media to deny he had agreed to race for the team, with it widely understood he had instead reached an agreement with McLaren - who confirmed Daniel Ricciardo would leave at the end of the season.

Both teams believed they had a valid contract for Piastri, with the case then being heard by the CRB this week - who have now ruled in favour of McLaren.

"The only Contract to be recognised by is the Contract between McLaren Racing Limited and Mr Piastri dated 4 July 2022. Mr Piastri is entitled to drive for McLaren Racing for the 2023 and 2024 seasons," the CRB said.

McLaren swiftly announced Piastri as their 2023 driver alongside Lando Norris and Piastri spoke of his delight at joining the team.

"I'm extremely excited to be making my F1 debut with such a prestigious team as McLaren and I'm very grateful for the opportunity that’s been offered to me," he said.

"The team has a long tradition of giving young talent a chance, and I'm looking forward to working hard alongside Lando to push the team towards the front of the grid. I'm focused on preparing for my F1 debut in 2023 and starting my F1 career in papaya."

Alpine will now be on the hunt for a driver to sit alongside Esteban Ocon next season, with widespread reports Pierre Gasly will join from AlphaTauri, ending his long association with Red Bull, and the team said an announcement on their line-up would be made in due course.

"BWT Alpine F1 Team thanks the Contract Recognition Board (CRB) for convening on Monday and we acknowledge the decision they have made," they stated on Twitter.

"We consider the matter closed on our side and will announce our full 2023 driver line-up in due course. Our immediate focus is the Dutch Grand Prix and securing points in our fight for fourth in the Constructors' Championship."

Alpine is fourth in the Constructors' Championship on 115 points, 20 points ahead of McLaren.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is hopeful there will be no further issues for Max Verstappen after a gearbox failure in the first free practice session at Zandvoort.

The championship leader is seeking to win back-to-back races at his home Dutch Grand Prix this week but his preparations suffered a significant hit when he stopped in a plume of smoke on Friday.

Verstappen stated over team radio that it was a gearbox issue, leading to concerns ahead of Sunday's race, but Horner is hoping the reigning world champion would be able to participate in the second practice session.

"We lost drive once he took a shift from four to fifth, we need to get the car back, understand that and hopefully get it turned around quickly for the next session," he explained.

With Verstappen leading the championship battle by 93 points ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez, with Charles Leclerc a further five behind, the title race is widely considered to be wrapped up, but Horner warned there is still time for things to change.

"Still eight races to go including a sprint race. Anything can happen. We've just got to keep our heads down, keep doing what we've been doing and the championship tables will take care of themselves," he added.

"Spa was probably the most dominant win we've ever had, it's difficult to understand what was it, did they take a step back, did we take a step forward? Max was in a league of his own."

Lewis Hamilton declared he was "more impressed" by the efforts of Red Bull's engineers than by Max Verstappen's driving ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix.

Having beaten Hamilton to the drivers' championship in controversial circumstances last year, Verstappen has been dominant throughout 2022, and holds a 93-point lead over team-mate Sergio Perez at the top of the standings.

Red Bull also appear certain to end Mercedes' eight-year stranglehold on the constructors' title, having built a 118-point advantage over Ferrari.

Not since the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix have Red Bull failed to get at least one driver onto the podium, while Verstappen has secured nine victories in his last 11 outings.

But when asked about Verstappen's performances, Hamilton chose to shower praise on those behind his car, responding: "I'm more impressed with [Red Bull's chief technical officer] Adrian Newey and his team.

"I think the team, it is a great team. They've generally had really great cars. 

"I think they used to have really high ride height and more drag than before, but I think they've realised this year that their engine isn't actually slower than others. They've done a fantastic job.

"When you've got a stable platform like that… it's a great team. They've done an amazing job. I've got to take my hat off to Red Bull. They had a great car last year as well."

In 2011, Hamilton famously dismissed Red Bull as "just a drinks company", but now acknowledges his criticism was misplaced.

"Anything I would have said in the past about the team... I didn't mean it in a negative way," the seven-time world champion added.

"A few years ago, I said something about them being a drinks company and it was really just highlighting that you would bet on a car manufacturer more than them. 

"But they've proved me wrong, and they've done a great job."

Meanwhile, Hamilton's strained relationship with 2021 title rival Verstappen could mean the Briton receives a hostile welcome in Zandvoort ahead of Sunday's Dutch Grand Prix. 

Hamilton finished as runner-up to Verstappen at the 24-year-old's home race last year, but refuted suggestions his next outing will resemble an "away fixture".

"It's just another race," Hamilton said. "I'm here to do a job."

Fernando Alonso said he is sorry for calling Lewis Hamilton an "idiot" on his team radio after their crash at Spa on Sunday, and will apologise the next time they meet.

Hamilton was sent airborne when he hit former McLaren team-mate Alonso during the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday, suffering damage that ended his own race.

It initially sparked a furious reaction from Alonso, who was heard to exclaim: "What an idiot! We had a mega start, but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first."

Hamilton took full responsibility after the race for the crash, but it brought back memories of his intense rivalry with Alonso when racing alongside one another at McLaren, and the 37-year-old Briton revealed he was irritated by the Spaniard's reaction.

Asked whether he would be speaking to Alonso after hearing of his radio message, Hamilton said: "No. I would have, until I heard what he said.

"I know that's how things feel in the heat of the moment, but it's nice to know how he feels about me."

However, after several days to reflect, Alonso told the official Formula One website he intended to clear the air with Hamilton when they meet ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix, though the Alpine driver also suggested his comments were only scrutinised because of the British media.

"I will hopefully see him today," Alonso said on Thursday. "When we are doing the TV pen I will approach him and say sorry if he understood in that way. I have absolutely no problems with him and I have huge respect for him.

"First of all, it's Lewis – he's a champion, he's a legend of our time. And then when you say something – and I'm sorry to repeat this – against a British driver, there is a huge media involvement after that.

"They've been saying a lot of things to Checo [Sergio Perez], to Carlos [Sainz], to me. If you say something to a Latin driver, everything is a little bit more fun. When you say something to others, it's a little bit more serious.

"But anyway, yes I apologise. I'm not thinking what I said – I don't think that it was much to blame in that moment looking at the replays to be honest, because it was a first-lap incident and we are close together.

"The heat of the moment, the adrenaline of the moment, fighting finally for the top two, top three, made me say those comments that I should not say.

"At the same time, I said after the race that it was a racing incident in my opinion. When you say something on the radio, in that moment you think you are talking to your engineer, so you are preparing the strategy.

"Obviously you should be aware that it should be broadcasted, but it's like if someone makes a hard tackle or something in football. In that moment you say something to your team-mate or whatever, and in that moment it's not broadcasted.

"Before the race or after the race, I said what I was thinking. On the radio, I said something that I was not… I don't think that way."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes the Silver Arrows' struggles at Spa will spur them on at the Dutch Grand Prix next time out. 

Wolff's team endured a torrid time at last Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton crashing out of the race after being sent airborne by a collision with Fernando Alonso approaching the Les Combes chicane.

Team-mate George Russell, meanwhile, was beaten to third spot by Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who followed Red Bull duo Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez home.

Spa represents the first time both Mercedes drivers have missed out on the podium since May's Monaco Grand Prix, but Wolff says the disappointment will drive them on in Zandvoort.

"Belgium was a challenging weekend for us as a team, but those weekends are the ones that really fire you up and make you dig deeper," he said.

"There were such big extremes across the weekend; from the pace differences on Saturday and Sunday, to the difficult first lap for Lewis and George's late charge for a podium.

"We've been working hard to understand our Spa struggles and thankfully we don't have long to wait until we can utilise and maximise those learnings. 

"What will make the difference for the rest of this season is how quickly and effectively we can continue learning, to deliver our best performance this year and next.

"The Dutch Grand Prix is next, and it was a real party atmosphere last year. It's an interesting, old-school track with sweeping bends, banked corners and a lot of character.

"So, we're excited to be back there and to take on the circuit's challenges with this year's car."

Mercedes are 159 points adrift of Red Bull at the top of the constructors' standings with eight races of the 2022 campaign remaining, while Russell and Hamilton sit fifth and sixth, respectively, in the drivers' championship.

The resumption of the Formula One season last weekend resulted in a rather strange race in Belgium, with many out-of-position drivers due to various penalties.

Not that it mattered to Max Verstappen though, who worked his way through the pack to secure victory having started 14th on the grid – extending his lead in the title race to 93 points.

With such a strong grip on the title, a far-cry from the events last year in his fierce battle with Lewis Hamilton, attention for many has already started to shift towards the 2023 season.

Seats for next year are still yet to be fully decided and there are plenty of big names in the mix, including Daniel Ricciardo after his exit from McLaren was announced prior to the last race.

For Verstappen though, there's still plenty to achieve. A victory on home soil in the Netherlands this weekend would see the Red Bull ace become the first driver to win back-to-back races at Zandvoort since James Hunt in 1975 and 1976.

Another win would also be his 10th of the season, equalling the tally he achieved last year in his maiden title win. With nine wins from 14 races, Verstappen's win percentage of 64.3 is the highest in F1 history.

 

Ferrari's race regrets

Ferrari have achieved eight pole positions in F1 this season, the most since the nine secured in 2019. Prior to that, the highest they achieved was 12 in 2004. For Charles Leclerc, his seven poles equal his best-ever return, which he set in 2019.

While the qualifying has yielded success, the races have not and Leclerc's title push has suffered as a result – with just one podium finish in the last nine rounds, having started the season with four podiums in five races.

Now third in the standings and 98 points behind Verstappen, Leclerc and Ferrari may well be wondering what might have been.

Alpine and McLaren fight

After a week in front of the FIA hearing on the tussle surrounding Oscar Piastri, Alpine and McLaren's fight will return to the track as they compete for the 'best of the rest' tag in F1 beneath Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.

Alpine have a 20-point advantage in the constructor's standings, capitalising in Belgium with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon finishing fifth and sixth respectively, while both McLarens finished outside the points.

That marked the fourth race in a row that Alpine saw both drivers finish inside the top 10, with McLaren at a disadvantage given Ricciardo's struggles in 2022.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has suggested the FIA struggle to police the Formula One budget cap effectively.

Binotto's team are competing with Red Bull for the constructors' championship this season, though driver Charles Leclerc's challenge for the drivers' crown is effectively over after a series of poor race calls.

The gap between the two could yet grow as reigning world champion Max Verstappen edges towards a second title, with Red Bull reportedly set to introduce a lighter car in forthcoming races.

There is a strong belief Red Bull will introduce a weight-trimmed chassis four kilograms lighter than their current model, which would facilitate a faster performance overall.

Binotto, though, feels the FIA are not doing enough to enforce the sport's budget cap.

"The number of people in the FIA monitoring it is very little," he told reporters. "It has to improve for the future because it would be really bad if somehow a championship was dictated by a financial regulation and not technical or sporting.

"I cannot know what they are doing, if they have a [lighter] chassis or not, but the budget cap is always a concern. The financial regulations can make differences between teams in the way they are interpreting and executing it.

"We know we need a very strong FIA to make sure they are properly focusing, otherwise the regulations will not be fair and equitable.

"Ferrari would never be capable of introducing a lightweight chassis or a different chassis through a season simply [because of the] budget cap and I would be very surprised if a team is capable of doing it.

"And if they are, it is back to the regulation itself, is it fair enough, is it equitable enough, is the policing sufficient?"

Red Bull principal Christian Horner has suggested the team are not preparing to make a change, stating: "No, there is no [lighter chassis]. These chassis will run for the next few races."

The FIA hearing regarding the contract dispute between Alpine and McLaren over Oscar Piastri started on Monday.

During the mid-season break, Alpine announced that Piastri, their reserve driver and part of their young driver programme, would be racing for the team in 2023 following Fernando Alonso's move to Aston Martin.

The Australian later took to social media to deny that claim, however, with Piastri and his manager, former F1 driver Mark Webber, believing he has a valid contract to move to McLaren – who want him to replace Daniel Ricciardo next year.

With both teams believing they hold a valid contract for Piastri, the FIA will settle the situation in a hearing this week, and while no set timeframe has been stated, it is expected an outcome will occur before Friday.

The FIA's contract recognition board will hear the case, and was first set up in 1992 to settle a dispute between Jordan and Bennetton over Michael Schumacher.

Although the FIA could side with Alpine, the French team may feel the relationship is too damaged to partner for 2023 and could then sell him to McLaren, or trade the driver elsewhere on the grid – with reported interest in Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri.

Either way, an available seat at Alpine or McLaren will quickly become the hottest property for drivers to secure a spot for 2023 and will be highly competitive.

AlphaTauri, Williams, Alfa Romeo and Haas are the other teams remaining on the grid not to have fully announced their driver line-up for next season.

Lewis Hamilton declared he was "grateful to still be alive" after crashing out of the Belgian Grand Prix following a collision with Fernando Alonso, as he took responsibility for the incident.

Hamilton was sent airborne when he hit former McLaren team-mate Alonso when approaching the Les Combes chicane on Sunday, suffering damage which ended his own race.

The incident sparked a furious reaction from Alonso, who was heard to exclaim: "What an idiot. We had a mega start, but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first."

While Alonso went on to finish fifth for Alpine, Hamilton's retirement ended a strong run of form for the seven-time champion, who had previously posted five consecutive podium finishes in the Mercedes.

Speaking after the race, Hamilton expressed relief at walking away from the incident unharmed, telling Sky Sports: "Looking back, he was in my blind spot, I didn't give him enough space. It is my fault. I could not see him.

"I'm just so sorry to the team and I need to recuperate and get back on the treadmill.

"I remember looking at the ground, it was definitely high up. I'm grateful to still be alive and in shape."

Hamilton and Alonso had an intense rivalry when racing alongside one another with McLaren, and the 37-year-old Briton revealed he was irritated by the Spaniard's reaction to the crash.

Asked whether he would be speaking to Alonso after hearing of his radio message, Hamilton said: "No. I would have, until I heard what he said.

"I know that's how things feel in the heat of the moment, but it's nice to know how he feels about me.

"It's better that it's out in the open how he feels and, like I said, it wasn't intentional, and I take responsibility for it – that's what adults do."

Alonso played down the comments after securing his joint-highest finish of the season.

"I was surprised, and he's now seen the incident and takes responsibility, which is very nice from him," Alonso said.

"It was a lap-one incident and nothing really to say there. The stewards didn't say anything because these things happen, especially at that corner.

"It's a tricky corner – I was frustrated in that moment, for sure. Every time we start on the first or second row, or are fighting in the top two or three, there is always something going on and I was frustrated.

"Luckily, my car was very strong, and I could continue."

Charles Leclerc is struggling to see how he and Ferrari can get back into title contention after a tough weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix.

A dominant race for Red Bull on Sunday saw the Austrian team take first and second place, with drivers' championship leader Max Verstappen topping the podium from Sergio Perez.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was third, while Leclerc's dwindling title hopes took another knock when he crossed the line fifth before a penalty for speeding in the pit lane nudged him down a spot.

Leclerc now sits third in the standings with 186 points, a daunting 98 points behind Verstappen. Perez sits five points ahead of Leclerc now, too, and although there are eight races remaining, defending champion Verstappen practically has another title in the bag.

In the constructors' standings, Red Bull have 475 points, well ahead of Ferrari whose haul of 357 puts them second.

Leclerc took responsibility for his excessive pit-lane pace, saying it was "my fault... it's a mistake and that's it".

Reflecting on the bigger picture and looking at what improvements Ferrari might make, with time running out, Leclerc said: "It starts to look very difficult.

"Especially with the pace they've shown this weekend, it's going to be very, very difficult. But I'll keep my head down, try to focus race by race and try to do my best."

Speaking on Sky Sports, Leclerc was asked whether he was still in championship contention.

Again, he answered: "It starts to look very difficult."

Team-mate Sainz agreed Ferrari were left in a sticky position after an arduous weekend.

"Unfortunately it was harder than expected," said the Spaniard. "We had a lot of over-heating on the tyres, we were sliding around a lot, and for some reason our package wasn't quite there this weekend, but in the end we finished on a podium and we will take it.

"The first two laps were strong, but then we went into high degradation and I realised we were degrading more than what we should. Unfortunately we couldn't put up a stronger fight and we had to survive. We will have to learn why at this track we were not so competitive."

Sainz believes there could be stronger results ahead for Ferrari at the Dutch Grand Prix, which comes next, but he does not expect Red Bull to drop off and predicted they will be strong in Italy in two weeks' time.

"Zandvoort should be a better track for us," Sainz said. "Monza should be advantage for Red Bull there, but we will try and win it in Zandvoort."

Max Verstappen hailed an "amazing" weekend after winning the Belgian Grand Prix in dominant fashion to extend his drivers' championship lead.

The Red Bull driver started from 14th on the grid after a penalty for a power unit change, but a superb drive stormed him to a second successive win at Spa-Francorchamps.

In a chaotic race that saw a safety car on just the second lap, Verstappen weaved through the field to make it a Red Bull one-two as Sergio Perez also took advantage of the quick Red Bull car.

The impressive victory means Verstappen now holds a 93-point lead over second-placed team-mate Perez in the drivers' championship standings.

And the Dutchman was delighted after the race, telling Sky Sports: "It was amazing this weekend. We were super competitive from the get-go. I knew that we could have a really good result.

"Winning from P14, even with that car, is always a bit difficult because you don't know in general what is going to happen but luckily I stayed out of trouble, even though there was a lot of stuff going on.

"I was literally just trying to avoid everything and once everything calmed down with the safety car, I was just overtaking cars every lap.

"Once I realised we were in P3, even on the soft compounds, we were very quick and I knew I had a good chance of winning the race."

When asked if this was the best he had felt so far in his Formula One career, Verstappen replied: "It's difficult to say. I'm just enjoying the moment.

"Everyone within the team knows we are having a good time but we are also very focused on what we want to achieve. At the moment we are achieving that, but we always want more."

Max Verstappen produced a scintillating drive to surge from 14th on the grid to win the Belgian Grand Prix and further extend his huge championship lead.

The reigning Formula One champion was fastest in Saturday's qualifying session but was one of several drivers to take a grid penalty for a power unit change, leading to him starting on the seventh row.

Yet, just as in the Hungarian Grand Prix before the mid-season break, when he started in 10th, Verstappen expertly worked his way through the field to prevail and claim a second successive win at Spa-Francorchamps.

The raw pace of the Red Bull allowed Verstappen to easily make his way to the front after a chaotic start and a second lap safety car, and he was never threatened after overtaking Carlos Sainz for the lead on lap 18. His team-mate Sergio Perez made it a Red Bull one-two, with the Ferraris of Sainz and Charles Leclerc sandwiched by Mercedes driver George Russell on a day that saw Verstappen's lead stretched to 96 points.

Fernando Alonso got a lightning start to put his Alpine ahead of Perez into the first corner, with the Red Bull man also overtaken by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

Yet the good work of the two former McLaren team-mates was soon undone when they collided going into the Les Combes chicane, sending Hamilton airbone as he suffered damage that ended his race.

The next lap then saw the Williams of Nicholas Latifi spin into Valtteri Bottas' Alfa Romeo, prompting a safety car as the latter ended up beached in the gravel.

Sainz locked up at the bus stop chicane at the restart but was still able to stay ahead of Perez and retain the lead.

Yet he soon began losing time to the Red Bulls and had both in his mirrors by the time he pitted on lap 12, Verstappen's spectacular charge through the field rewarded with the lead as he passed Perez while Sainz was in the pit lane.

Sainz was back ahead when Verstappen pitted for medium tyres four laps later, but Ferrari's lack of pace was encapsulated as Leclerc was unable to get past Perez on warmer tyres following the Mexican's pit stop and Verstappen succeeded in breezing past Sainz for the lead.

That set the stage for a serene second half of the race for Verstappen, whose title battle with Leclerc is turning into a procession for the Dutchman.

The Belgian Grand Prix will be part of the Formula One calendar in 2023.

Speculation has persisted over the future of the event, held at the historic and much-loved Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Stavelot, as F1 continues its expansion into non-traditional markets.

There will be a third race in the United States, held in Las Vegas, on the schedule next year, while F1 bosses had been in talks about a return to South Africa.

However, those discussions have reportedly collapsed, paving the way for Spa to keep its spot.

"Formula 1 can confirm that the Belgian Grand Prix will be on the 2023 calendar following an agreement to extend our partnership together. Further details on the 2023 calendar will be announced in due course," an F1 statement read.

Speaking to Sky Sports, F1 president Stefano Domenicali said: "We have to congratulate the job [the race organisers] did. You've seen the investment they did. You see the number of people that are coming here. Incredible crowd, incredible attention to the people, and this is great for the sport.

"We always said that the race is a part of our tradition, and it has a very important space in our calendar, and this is a fact that we wanted to share in this moment."

Spa's long-term future as a fixture of the F1 season remains in question.

There have been suggestions it could become a biennial grand prix, though such a change would raise doubts over the circuit's ability to raise the finances to maintain the standards F1 requires while only racing once every two years.

The Belgian Grand Prix was first held in 1925. Since the inaugural F1 world drivers' championship in 1950, it has only been absent from the calendar on six occasions.

Repair work at Spa meant the race was not held in 2006; the last time the Belgian Grand Prix was not included on the calendar.

Sunday's race will be the 55th edition of the race to be held at Spa, with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz starting first on the grid following a raft of penalties, including for title rivals Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.

Mercedes driver George Russell believes Max Verstappen will win Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix despite starting 15th on the grid, and doubts his own chances of a podium finish.

Defending Formula One drivers' champion Verstappen put in the fastest lap in qualifying on Saturday, but the Red Bull ace is among those who have been pushed to the back of the grid after being issued with penalties.

Verstappen, courtesy of his qualifying efforts, starts at the front of the queue of those handed engine penalties. Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris and Zhou Guanyu line up behind him, with Mick Schumacher at the back after a gearbox penalty.

That gives Verstappen plenty to do if he is to extend his lead at the top of the championship in the first race after the mid-season break, but Russell is still expecting him to finish top of the pile.

"I think Max will probably still win the race. I don't know where he is going to be starting, but with the pace he has got he will probably still win the race," Russell said.

"And Charles [Leclerc] as well, he will probably still come through. So, I think it is unlikely that we will be on the podium tomorrow in all honesty, because we've still got Carlos [Sainz] and Checo [Perez] there and Max is going to slice through the field pretty quickly.

"We will need to look overnight, try and understand it. Qualifying is out of the way, which has been our weak point, and we'll try and be faster tomorrow."

While Verstappen is hopeful of a podium finish, his priority is to survive what is set to be a thrilling first lap at Spa with plenty of cars out of position, before eyeing a finish further up the field.

"I think with the pace we have in the car, I want to move forward, and I want to be at least on the podium," Verstappen said.

"I mean survive, of course, lap one – that's the most important. Then after that I need to pass a few cars before of course you get into a competitive position."

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz starts the race on pole ahead of Sergio Perez, with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton on the second row while Russell and Alex Albon complete the top six.

Carlos Sainz profited from Max Verstappen's grid penalty to secure pole for the Belgian Grand Prix but admitted to being concerned by the gap between Ferrari and Red Bull.

Verstappen topped the timesheet in Saturday's delayed qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps ahead of the first race following the mid-season break.

But the reigning champion – who holds an 80-point lead over Charles Leclerc at the top of the standings – will start in 15th after being penalised for using too many engine parts.

The Dutchman is one of seven drivers taking grid penalties, along with Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon, Zhou Guanyu, Mick Schumacher and Valtteri Bottas.

That effectively meant the rest of field were facing off for the top 13 positions on the grid, and it was Ferrari driver Sainz who will will start Sunday's race at the head of the pack.

Whereas Verstappen looked comfortable throughout and delivered a time of 1:43.665 seconds with his first Q3 flying lap, Sainz's Q3 lap was rather scrappy.

Despite claiming pole, the Spaniard – who is fifth in the standings – was not entirely pleased with how things played out.

"I'm happy to be starting on pole, but I'm obviously not so happy to see the gap to Max this weekend and the gap Red Bull have on us," he told Sky Sports.

"We need to keep digging to see why Red Bull are so fast around this track. But to start from pole is good and we will try to win tomorrow.

"I think our race pace is better than our qualifying pace, but there is still something to find."

The past seven winners of the Belgian Grand Prix have started from the front row of the grid, six of them from pole.

But after finishing 0.632s clear of the field in qualifying, Verstappen – last year's winner on this track – is hopeful of climbing from towards the back of the pack into the top three.

"It was an amazing qualifying but the whole weekend we have been really on it," he said. "With a car like this it would be a shame to not be on the podium.

"The car has been working really well and we have basically been trying to fine tune it and it all came together in Qualifying.

"Of course, I had to be careful with the amount of tyres I was using, but I was very happy with my lap. It is an amazing track with amazing fans and I hope they had a good day."

Verstappen is set to start one place ahead of title rival Leclerc, while team-mate Sergio Perez is second after finishing 0.165s behind Sainz.

Fernando Alonso, who is on his best run since 2018 after collecting points in each of his past eight races, is third ahead of Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

Red Bull are seeking a fifth win in Belgium – only in Mexico (six) would they have more – with Perez looking to overhaul Sainz.

"P2 is not the worst place to be around here and I think if I am able to get a good run at Carlos, it will be different and I will be on the other side of the row," Perez said.

"I am looking forward to tomorrow and I think there will be a great race ahead of us. It'll be very important to get a good start and do our own race and I think that will be the key."

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